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13 March 2018

Philippines: Front Line Defenders condemns the inclusion of human rights defenders in ‘terror list’ petition

Front Line Defenders unequivocally condemns the inclusion of human rights defenders in a petition filed by the Department of Justice seeking to label them as terrorists as it puts them in danger of arrest or attack. Front Line Defenders believes that the HRDs are being targeted for their peaceful and legitimate human rights work in the Philippines.

In the prevailing atmosphere of violence against human rights defenders in the Philippines, the Department of Justice filed a petition on 23 February 2018 seeking to declare the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the CPP, as terrorist organisations. However, many of the individuals named in the petition are human rights defenders.  The petition was filed under Republic Act 9372 or the Human Security Act of 2007, otherwise known as the anti-terrorism law.

The petition follows President Rodrigo Duterte’s proclamation that the CPP and NPA are terrorist groups after the collapse of peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) in December last year. In January 2018, he declared that he would pursue left-wing organisations, accusing them of being communist fronts. Within this context, scores of legitimate and peaceful human rights defenders have been labeled as terrorists, making them targets of violence and judicial harassment by associating them with ‘terrorist organisations’ and putting them in grave danger. Many of the human rights defenders are working on indigenous peoples’ rights, lands rights and women’s rights.

Indigenous human rights defenders and others working for the rights of indigenous people are named in the petition, including the current UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Victoria Tauli Corpuz. Ilocos environmental activist Sherwin De Vera is also tagged as a member of CPP as is Elisa Tita Lubi, who is a Karapatan National Executive Committee member and former interim regional coordinator of the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development. Current and former chairpersons of numerous indigenous organisations are targeted as well as at least 10 indigenous leaders in Northern and Southern Mindanao.

This is the latest in a series of moves to delegitimise and undermine the work of human rights defenders in the Philippines by the Duterte administration. In August 2017, President Duterte called for the police to shoot human rights defenders for “obstructing justice” and for being a part of drug activity. He also threatened human rights organisations with criminal investigations for criticising his war on drugs.

The climate of impunity that prevails in the country, combined with the administration’s encouragement of extra-judicial killings has resulted in the serious deterioration in the situation for human rights defenders in the country. Front Line Defenders recorded the killing of 60 HRDs in the Philippines in 2017, an increase of nearly 100% on the previous year in its Annual Report on Human Rights Defenders at Risk in 2017. Human rights defenders have been regularly accused of violent crimes or of being members of the NPA.  Judicial harassment and criminalisation of human rights defenders remain common, with politicians and private actors using the criminal justice system to silence those who oppose their interests.